Claire Weintraub

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Claire Weintraub, a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, met with Olivia Joyner to discuss her experiences growing up in North Carolina. Claire has lived in Chapel Hill for her life, and observed firsthand the demographic changes in her schools as more and more students from other countries became her classmates. Claire studies Spanish at school, and she believes this has aided her in being able to connect with Hispanic migrants. She has been working with LINC: Linking-Immigrants-to-New-Communities since her first year on campus. Claire helps peer tutor and teach English to migrants who speak Spanish, Burmese, and Karen.



Olivia: [00:00:01] This is Olivia here with Claire at 9:47am in the UL. Claire, can I confirm that I have your consent for this interview?
Claire: Yes.
Olivia: [00:00:18] Okay, so could you just start off by telling me where you’re from and where you grew up?
Claire: Yeah, so I’m from Chapel Hill, North Carolina- born and raised- lived here my whole life. And obviously I go to school here no too, so yeah … that’s my home.
Olivia: [00:00:37] Okay so you never moved. That changes some of my questions. Maybe, if you had moved at some point in your life, how do you think that would have affected your upbringing or our family?
Claire: Yeah. I think that- I mean it’s definitely always difficult, especially when you’re a kid, to move to a new place. You know, you’re leaving behind a place where you feel comfortable, where you have friends and stuff, and sort of having to start over. I definitely think that’d be difficult. I guess the closest thing I have to compare it to is coming to college, because I was in the same town but it’s a new setting. There’s definitely an adjustment period for sure.

Olivia: [00:01:24] Do you have siblings?
Claire: Mhmm. I have a younger brother who is two years younger than me and two step brothers who are five years younger.
Olivia: [00:01:30] So what was the transition like going to college? Were you the first in the house to go?
Claire: Mhmm. Yeah. It was- I don’t know- it wasn’t too rough, but it was definitely sort of a new thing for my family since I was the oldest one. So sort of- it was a lot- it was kind of overwhelming trying to figure everything out. But it was nice to be pretty close to my family, and know that they were there if I needed to fall back on them. But I ended up not really going home that much at all freshman year.
Olivia: [00:02:04] Where is the farthest place from home that you’ve travelled?
Claire: The farthest, geographically, I don’t know. I don’t know which is farther, between Europe vs. Brazil, but those are probably the farthest. But the longest- I studied abroad in Spain. So that’s the farthest I’ve stayed for an extended period of time. I guess that’s a better comparison to moving to a new place than college. So, yeah. I studied abroad in Spain for five months. So that was pretty far.
Olivia: [00:02:36] Did your family ever get to come visit you?
Claire: Yeah, they did. That was nice. They came for a few days and I got to show them around and everything.
Olivia: [00:02:45] And that was easy having them- did they have to fill out any visa forms, or were they able to just buy a ticket and come visit?
Claire: Yeah, they were able to just buy a ticket and fly over. I mean, my mom actually already had a work trip to somewhere else in Europe, so she was able to just pop on down to Spain while she was over there. It was pretty easy.
Olivia: [00:03:07] Growing up in Chapel Hill- I assume you were in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro school system- did you have a lot of classes with students that came from other countries, or that spoke other languages?
Claire: Yeah, for sure. There’s a pretty large immigrant population in Chapel Hill- a lot of Hispanics, especially Mexicans immigrants. Chapel Hill also has a pretty large Burmese refugee population. So definitely growing up there was always pretty diverse classrooms. When I got to high school it tended to be more segregated, along the lines of honors vs. AP classes tended to have more white students, and then the minorities tended to be in less of those classes. But in general, my schools were pretty diverse.
Olivia: [00:04:00] Did you feel like you had any contact with immigrant or refugee populations outside of the classroom, like in your friend groups, or after school activities, or volunteer activities?
Claire: To some extent in high school but not really as much until I got to college. I mean, I definitely knew people who were immigrants, but I wouldn’t say I had a ton of outside-of-school interaction with them.
Olivia: [00:04:30] So what have you done here? You said now you maybe have a little more contact.
Claire: Yeah, so I volunteer with an organization called Linking-Immigrants-to-New-Communities, or LINC for sure, and we basically do ESL tutoring for immigrants in the communities, and I’ve been doing that since my freshman year here.
Olivia: That’s awesome.
Claire: Yeah, and I’ve really enjoyed that. I’ve had the opportunity to interact with people from a lot of different backgrounds and stuff.
Olivia: [00:04:58] So do you prefer to kind of find one family, or two, and kind of help them along long term in the process, or do you prefer to just help as many people come in contact with as many resources as possible?
Claire: Yeah, it kind of depends. So, people come to LINC looking for different things, and we try to cater what we do to what they need, so we have some people who will come really regularly- every week, or a twice a week for a year or two- and in those situations it’s nice to be able to work with the same person over and over because you sort of know their level and know what kind of strategies worked or haven’t worked in the past. And then there are some people who want more of a short-term ‘I want to be able to say these few things so I can communicate with my boss better’ or whatever. In those cases, you just focus on helping them with what they need at that moment. But it definitely is rewarded to see people who you’ve worked with for a while, see their improvement and see something they’re really struggling with at first, see them sort of start to overcome that. You can tell they’re really proud and satisfied. It’s a good feeling to know that you’ve helped them get there.
Olivia: [00:06:18] That’s really great. What have been some of the major categories that people have come in to LINC to have assistance for?
Claire: A lot of people, they want to be able to speak, they want to be able to be more comfortable speaking in a work environment. They want to be able to communicate with their boss better, or if they work in some kind of service industry with customer- that’s like a really big thing. And then, sometimes, it’s more like basic-conversation-type-stuff: just being able to say ‘hi, how are you? My name is ___. I’m from ___.’ Sometimes, especially with people who have kids, they want to be able to talk to their kid’s teachers, and just introduce themselves, and things like that. And then- I’d say the biggest thing is the work environment type things, but it’s really- we have one student who’s been coming for a while and he wants to work on his speaking in front of groups- public speaking type thing. So once people get more comfortable with one on one conversations, sometimes they want to move to that next level.
Olivia: [00:07:36] So what have been your personal challenges with the language barriers- with trying to help people maybe learn English, but maybe they don’t speak Spanish and maybe come from somewhere else? I don’t know if you know any other languages, or how you work through those issues.
Claire: Yeah, that’s actually a really relevant question right now because in the past we have pretty much only worked with Hispanic immigrants, which has been a lot easier for me since I speak Spanish, so if I don’t know how to explain something [in English] then I can just explain it in Spanish. But then more recently we’ve had a lot of members of the Karen community- they’re Burmese refugees but they speak Karen as their language. Yeah, so I don’t speak that language at all and it’s really structured very differently from English so that’s been definitely a new challenge because we’re having to try to explain concepts- English concepts to them in English when they’re English is at a pretty beginner level. So it’s more of a- we’ve had to work together with our participants more to make sure that we’re really able to communicate with them. But, I don’t really remember what your original question was.
Olivia: It was just about language barriers.
Claire. Yeah, so that’s definitely been a challenge, but I think it’s been kind of an interesting challenge, and we’ve sort of been able to- I’ve been able to learn some very very basics of Karen as I’ve been working with these people, which has been kind of interesting, and it sort of shifts this- again, sort of puts you in their shoes a little bit. I’m having so much trouble even remembering how to say ‘he’ and she;’ I couldn’t imagine having to learn an entire language in a community where no one else spoke my language, so yeah.
Olivia: [00:09:27] That’s a really good point. So do y’all try and do any advocacy or awareness work on campus? Like showing other students that these are some of the difficulties that immigrants and refugees face here on campus or in their work everyday. Do y’all do any of that?
Claire: We don’t- we mostly do more like the service side, but we do sort of partner with some other organizations- I don’t know if you’re familiar with SUIE, which is Students United for Immigrant Equality, I believe. They’re like an immigrant activism group. So they do a lot of these types of awareness events and stuff- sort of like what you were talking about. Sort of making people aware of some of the challenges that immigrants face. And so we have sort of tried to help them out with events that they’ve done in the past and stuff, and we try to make sure at the very least that our volunteers are aware of just issues related to immigration, things that people we’re working with might be facing, so that when we’re working with people we’re like aware and conscientious about the people we’re working with.

Olivia: [00:10:46] How do you think that the work that you’re doing right now might impact your future and career path and just how you interact with people on a day-to-day basis?
Claire: Well, okay- in two parts. So, on a day-to-day basis, I think just having any kind of direct interaction with people who are different with you, especially immigrants, is really beneficial because it just makes you realize even more- even if you objectively know immigrants are just like us and they’re just people trying to improve their lives and come here and get a job and contribute to society, when you meet people and interact with them, it really reinforces that idea and, I think that especially with everything that’s been going on in politics has made me even more strongly feel like people just really misunderstand and mis-categorize immigrants and what their intents are and what they’re doing or not doing, contributing or not contributing to our society. So, I think that on a human level, it’s really beneficial to have that personal interaction, and then as far as future or career, I mean it’s hard to say because I don’t know exactly what I want to do at this point, but it’s definitely- before coming to UNC I would have not have necessarily considered a job doing anything relating to immigration, it just wasn’t something that was maybe huge on my radar, but as I’ve done a lot of this work and taken more classes related to it, it’s become something that’s really interesting to me and definitely something I would consider pursuing as a career. So yeah, it’s definitely made me much more aware and passionate about these issues.
Olivia: [00:12:35] So you think that if you were to pursue some kind of career in immigration you’d like to work in the U.S. with immigrants coming here, or work outside of the country and kind of being on the other side of that?
Claire: I don’t know; that’s a good question. I haven’t really thought that through so much I guess, but I would love to be able to do something where I can use my Spanish, so whether that’s in the U.S. or outside of the U.S. I don’t know.
Olivia: [00:13:13] So what are you most excited about for the Guanajuato trip?
Claire: I don’t know. I’m excited for everything, but I guess just sort of the opportunity to kind of see first hand a lot of the things we’ve been hearing about, or seeing about in the movies, and I feel like really see the other side of this- the migration issue. Like literally- where people are coming from, and I’m also really interested to see all of the community development projects they’ve been doing, because those sound really interesting. They’re implementing a lot of creative solutions to sort of help maintain these communities, so I’m really interested to see those projects as well.
Olivia: Me too. I think that’s all I have for you, so thank you!
Claire: Yeah, thank you.